Biggest Red Flag on Every NBA Roster Heading into Next Season

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2012

Biggest Red Flag on Every NBA Roster Heading into Next Season

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    The 2012 NBA offseason has seen a talent-rich draft, a busy summer of free agency and a ton of excitement about next season.

    But each franchise still has one or two problems that are cause for concern.

    Some teams need to keep an eye on a star rehabbing from injury. Others have roster, salary cap and 2013 free agency quandaries that must be sorted out before next summer. And others must deal with lack of depth at certain positions.

    Certain teams have bigger setbacks than the rest, but every squad has at least one significant red flag heading into next season.

San Antonio Spurs: Restricted Free Agent Class

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    As long as father time doesn't suddenly cripple the team, the San Antonio Spurs should be solid on the court this year.

    Their biggest red flag of concern in 2012-13 will be in the front office, where they have to decide what to do with the bevy of restricted free agents they'll have next summer.

    DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal and Derrick Byars are all restricted free agents, so R.C. Buford and company must put together a game plan of who whey want to keep, and how they're going to pull it off.

    They must also financially keep in mind the group of unrestricted free agents that include Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills.

    Certain players are expendable, but the negotiations with Ginobili and Splitter will be important.

Milwaukee Bucks: Samuel Dalembert

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    Andrew Bogut isn't an elite NBA center, but the Milwaukee Bucks will miss him next year with newly acquired Samuel Dalembert and John Henson spending the majority of the time in the post.

    Henson isn't much of a worry because he is a rookie who will become productive in future campaigns, but their reliance on Dalembert is unsettling.

    The 6'11" tower is past his prime, and if Scott Skiles needs to rely on him for more than 25 minutes per game, the Bucks are in trouble.

    If Dalembert can't establish himself as an offensive threat in the Eastern Conference, it will adversely affect the backcourt's ability to flourish.

Portland Trail Blazers: Over-Dependent on Lillard?

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    All the footage I've seen of rookie guard Damian Lillard, including Vegas Summer League action, has been impressive and led me to believe he's a future star.

    However, aside from Wesley Matthews, Lillard is the only starting-caliber guard for the Portland Trail Blazers. That means the two of them will see heavy minutes if the team wants a chance to make the playoffs.

    As good as Lillard is, he's not up for the season-long challenge of competing with seasoned Western Conference guards.

    Unless Neil Olshey finds a way to bolster the bench corps, Portland's 2013 finish might be just as disappointing as last season.

Boston Celtics: Backup Point Guard Deficiencies

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    The Boston Celtics have one of the best point guards in the land, but their backup point guard situation is one of the shakiest in the league.

    Right now, Keyon Dooling is the backup, while Jason Terry will also handle the ball quite a bit.

    Terry is a nice playmaker, but if he and Rondo spent a significant chunk of time on the court together, that means there will also be some stretches where Dooling will be running the show. And that's not a good thing.

    Dooling is a great sparkplug off the bench, but he's a poor facilitator. The severe drop-off in offensive flow will be evident.

    Boson can't afford to run Rondo into the ground, so periodically, they'll be heavily undermanned at the point.

Denver Nuggets: Veteran Pair

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    The Nuggets are a deep team with plenty of playoff-caliber talent, but part of their depth is reliant on a pair of declining veterans.

    Andre Miller and Al Harrington have 27 combined years of NBA experience, so the big question for 2012-13 is: will we see a pair of crafty veterans supplementing the depth, or aging veterans weakening the rotation?

    Miller's productivity and efficiency took a significant dip from 2010-11 to 2011-12, and there's not much to suggest it will improve next year. Harrington is entering his fifteenth NBA season and hasn't scored more than 15 points per game since 2009-10.

    Without Spain-bound Rudy Fernandez, Denver may find themselves relying on the old guard a little more than they'd like.

Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade's Knee

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    A clean bill of health should be no problem for Dwyane Wade come training camp, but his knee injury is just the latest ailment of the All-Star's career.

    Wade has missed 125 games over the course of his career (14 per year), and he's only getting older. Heat fans will be nervous all year, hoping he holds up for another title run.

    When he's healthy, he's almost as unstoppable as LeBron, but when he's hobbled, he's a pedestrian contributor.

    D-Wade is the second-most important piece of the big three, and if he misses a substantial amount of time, especially in the spring, it could severely undermine Miami's chance to repeat as NBA champions.

Memphis Grizzlies: Zach Randolph's Durability

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    Lionel Hollins has a solid core of talent to work with in Memphis, but a subject of concern is that one of the most important players on the team is an out-of-shape, injury-prone 31-year old.

    Zac Randolph's recent knee issues are just the latest hiccup in a career that's been interrupted by injuries since his rookie year.

    The 6'9" lefty utilizes a smooth shooting touch, excellent positioning and resourceful moves to fuel the Grizzlies' frontcourt. He's got a great nose for the ball and is an exceptional rebounder for a below-average athlete.

    The bottom line is that they can't contend if he's sidelined. Without him, the Grizzlies' offense isn't as versatile or productive, and last winter's rash of losses is prime proof.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio's Knee

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    The future of the Minnesota Timberwolves' backcourt is in the hands (actually, the ACL) of Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio.

    He should be healthy in time to play the majority of the 2012-13 season, but when exactly will he be back, when will he be at "100 percent" and how much quickness and explosiveness will he lose? Rubio himself stated the importance of returning 100 percent:

    "I don't know when I'm going to come back. But the most important thing, the first thing that I want to make sure is that when I come back I'm 100 percent. I don't know if it's training camp, I don't know if it's the first week, second week. I don't want to put a date (on it) because it depends how my knee feels and we will see."

    The nature of his return will dictate Minnesota's competitiveness (or lack thereof) next year.

Brooklyn Nets: Backup Center

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    At the starting center position, the Brooklyn Nets are lucky to have an above-average pivot man in Brook Lopez.

    However, there's almost no length or power waiting on the bench to give him a break.

    The only other bigs on the squad are Reggie Evans and Shelden Williams. Evans is 6'8" and almost completely devoid of offensive capability, and Williams is 6'9" and has had an underwhelming NBA career.

    Manning the paint will be a tall task for Brooklyn's rotation of post players.

Indiana Pacers: Reward for Plumlee Risk?

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    Miles Plumlee is a top-tier athlete who could serve as a decent energy player in the NBA, but the Pacers plucked him in the first round and are hoping the risk pays off in a big way.

    Why? Because David West and Tyler Hansbrough are both free agents next summer, and Plumlee might be a big part of the Pacers rotation in the near future if Indiana loses one or both of them.

    Plumlee's offensive skills need work, both in the footwork department and in shooting touch. Indiana can't keep him in the game for long stretches if he doesn't develop on the block.

Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins

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    For all his talent, DeMarcus Cousins has frequently been a distraction for the Sacramento Kings. His attitude and mindset aren't always on the same page as the team's.

    Entering his third year as a pro, head coach Keith Smart had better hope most of Cousins' antics are in the past, because his personality might get in the way of the team progressing and maximizing its potential.

    Team cohesiveness and chemistry separate the overachievers from the average, and the jury is still out on whether Cousins can lead Sacramento into a winning era.

Orlando Magic: The Dwightmare

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    The highly-publicized Dwight Howard saga will loom over the Amway Center like a gigantic cloud until the Magic find a way to deal with the situation.

    Last week, the colossal center reiterated that he wants to be traded from Orlando.

    New general manager Rob Hennigan is starting to get to crunch time to get a decent deal done. Technically, the team could wait until next spring's trading deadline to get something in return for Howard, but that means months of more drama.

    To call this situation a "red flag" is an understatement.

Phoenix Suns: Which Ex-Wolf Will Be Ousted?

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    The new-look Phoenix Suns have promising components at every position, including draftee Kendall Marshall, returning guard Goran Dragic and amnestied forward Luis Scola.

    But they also brought former Minnesota Timberwolves Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson into the fold, but was it overkill?

    With Dragic dominating the ball on the perimeter, Marcin Gortat getting touches on the block and the fundamentally-superior Scola scoring inside the arc, there won't be room for both Beasley and Johnson to have an impact.

    If Beasley's role is diminished, then that's a waste of a lot of money (three years, $18 million). If Wesley Johnson becomes a bench-warmer, then that's a waste of a trade.

Washington Wizards: Trevor Ariza

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    As the only true small forward wing for Washington, new Wizard Trevor Ariza will be asked to produce on a nightly basis.

    This should worry Wizards fans because Ariza is an unproductive forward who needs a high volume of shots to get his points.

    He was a figure of interest after his high-profile postseason runs with the Lakers, but the cold hard truth is that he's a mediocre wing offensively.

    His career averages? Nine points per game, 4.4 rebounds per game, 43 percent from the field, 32 percent from long distance and a PER of 13.6.

    That's not going to help Washington's rebuilding effort.

Oklahoma City Thunder: The Future of the Big Four

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    Two of the four table legs of the Oklahoma City Thunder are restricted free agents next summer, so Sam Presti and the rest of the OKC front office have their work cut out for them.

    Even though James Harden and Serge Ibaka aren't the first or the second-most important players on the team, they are still stars who command ridiculous money. Harden is a dynamic guard and Ibaka is a valuable defender, and both are premiere Olympians.

    Retaining these standout role players without handcuffing the rest of the payroll is going to be an extremely difficult task.

    Good luck balancing the books at this time next year!

Toronto Raptors: DeMar Derozan's Future

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    This fall and during this season, the Raptors will have to evaluate their priorities, and one of them includes the future of DeMar Derozan, who will be a restriced free agent in 2013.

    He's proven over the last couple years that he's a 17 points-per-game player who can impact the game with his elite athleticism.

    Toronto has to decide how high they're willing to bid to keep him. His outside shooting is horrific, but his bounce brings them so many playmaking opportunities.

    Derozan's situation is just one example of several roster questions the team must resolve. Jose Calderon and Lineas Kleiza, among others, are unrestricted free agents next summer.

Los Angeles Clippers: Will Chris Paul Re-Sign?

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    No 2013 free agent looms for the Los Angeles Clippers more than Chris Paul.

    The franchise needs to re-sign the guard-half of Lob City to keep it's near-future championship hopes alive.

    As expensive as his max contract will be nothing compared to the headache they'll have if he leaves. If Paul somehow leaves Los Angeles, it will be a devastating blow to the club's image.

    If they re-sign him, it would be a great show of confidence in the organization, and it would also mean more wins and a deeper playoff run over the next couple years.

Charlotte Bobcats: The Center Position

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    The Charlotte Bobcats made a bundle of transactions this offseason, but not all the roster deficiencies were addressed. Here's a simple, no-nonsense look at the Charlotte Bobcats 2012 offseason checklist:

    Upgrade guard positions: check.

    Upgrade forward positions: check

    Upgrade center position: barely, if at all.

    They got deeper at center, but quantity doesn't mean quality. The group of Brendan Haywood, Bismack Biyombo, Byron Mullens and DeSagana Diop will be outmatched on most nights in the Eastern Conference, which will severely hurt the team's revitalization effort.

Golden State Warriors: The Health and Fate of Stephen Curry

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    The most nerve-racking figure on the Golden State Warriors' roster is Stephen Curry.

    Curry is a double-sided red flag for Mark Jackson because he has recurring ankle issues and becomes a restricted free agent next summer.

    Not many players can score 15-20 points, dish 5-8 assists and shoot 45 percent from three-point range. Oh, and he's only 24 years old, so he's just entering the prime of his career (if he can stay on the court).

    The Warriors want to keep him for the future, and that starts with keep him healthy now, so 2012-13 is a pivotal season.

Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose

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    Once mid-winter hits and the Cubs' and Bears' seasons are inevitably over, Chicago sports fans will hang their hopes on the Bulls, thereby putting all their weight on the rehabbing ACL of Derrick Rose.

    The date of his return is in question, the manner of his return is in question and the effectiveness of his replacements is in question.

    When he does eventually return to the lineup, it's going to be tough for him to jump right into the fray, click with the supporting cast and play like the Derrick Rose of 2011.

    In the meantime, Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague need to overachieve in order to ensure the Bulls a decent playoff seed.

New Orleans Hornets: Who's the Veteran Leader?

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    On a college or professional basketball roster, an abundance of youth usually isn't problematic as long as the team has one or two good veteran leaders.

    The New Orleans Hornets are without a clearly-defined veteran leader right now. That's not to say a leader won't emerge throughout the season, but there's a good chance the squad will have an identity struggle.

    Ten out of the twelve players have four years or less of experience, and no player has more than seven years of experience.

    It's not a huge deal because no one is expecting playoff success, but the Anthony Davis era could develop and progress better with strong leadership.

New York Knicks: Iman Shumpert's Return

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    There are only a handful of teams that are more talented and have more complete rosters than the New York Knicks.

    With defensive master Iman Shumpert in the lineup, that list gets even smaller and the Knicks get that much closer to a deep playoff run.

    Although it looks like a mid-season return from ACL injury is in order, there are still several question marks surrounding the situation:

    When exactly will he return? Will the injury have any lingering effects? Will he have a sophomore slump, especially since he's coming back halfway through the season? Only time will tell.

Utah Jazz: Perimeter Depth

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    The Utah Jazz are solid inside and at small forward, but at guard, the depth chart is deplorable.

    When two of your best guards are leftovers from the fifth-place Clippers (no offense to the Clippers), you're not in the best shape for the postseason. 

    Randy Foye, Mo Williams and Gordon Hayward aren't a pathetic trio, but they're not playoff guards and the depth behind them will be unproductive.

    Unless something drastically changes, the Jazz are destined for another first-round exit next spring.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Counting on Dion Too Much?

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    After the initial surprise that Dion Waiters was drafted fourth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, some people got to thinking that it might have been a genius pick.

    Syracuse Orange head coach Jim Boeheim went so far as to say the Cavs could soon have the best backcourt in the NBA.

    Cleveland fans might find themselves disappointed if they hold too much hope in Waiters and Kyrie Irving this season.

    If a rookie and a sophomore are the only playmakers on the squad, there are going to be some growing pains and not as many wins as the hype would suggest.

Dallas Mavericks: Mass Roster Exodus in 2013?

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    After initially losing out on the big-ticket items of free agency, the Dallas Mavericks pieced together enough parts for a respectable 2012-13 campaign.

    The problem is, they might have to do the same thing next year, and yet again in the future if they're not careful.

    Donnie Nelson knew what he was getting himself into when he put together this year's roster, so he'd better have a proactive attack next offseason.

    Elton Brand, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Brandan Wright, Delonte West, Rodrigue Beaubois, Darren Collison and Shawn Marion are all free agents in 2013.

    If they're not careful, the roster turnover could keep them from contending for years.

Atlanta Hawks: Goodbye Josh Smith?

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    As the 2012-13 Atlanta Hawks season progresses, anxiety about Josh Smith will heighten.

    His preference for future basketball will change the franchise dramatically one way or another. If it doesn't look like he'll re-sign long term before the trade deadline, the Hawks will have no other choice but to deal him.

    Smith's 2011-12 numbers are gaudy: 18.8 points per game, 9.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and a 21.1 PER. Even though he has eight NBA seasons under his belt, he's still only 26, and has several years of that kind of production left in him.

    He's been the face of the club for years, but if he isn't in it for the long haul, the Hawks should get a good deal for him.

Los Angeles Lakers: Andrew Bynum

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    There are a couple red flags on the Los Angeles Lakers' roster, but Andrew Bynum's skill, potential, volatility and impending free agency make him the biggest red flag.

    If he kept his head and his heart in the right place, he could end up being a huge part of the franchise for the rest of his career, which would undoubtedly include a couple championship quests.

    That's the best-case scenario.

    Worst case? His drama could hinder the club's progress and chemistry as the front office tries but fails to trade him for Dwight Howard.

    For his and the Lakers' sakes, I hope he matures as a person, because it's the last major step for him to become an NBA superstar.

Detroit Pistons: Corey Maggette

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    Don't be fooled by Corey Maggette's 15 points per game last season with Charlotte. He took 12 shots per game to hit that mark and shot 37 percent from the field. That's depressing, even considering he was playing with the Bocats. 

    In addition, he was sidelined for almost half the season due to various leg injuries.

    Last year was a warning sign that Maggette's time as a relevant NBA forward is done. His physical tools are starting to wear down, and with them his effectiveness.

Philadelphia 76ers: Chemistry Between Wings

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    In the Philadelphia 76ers' case, less might mean more.

    There are over eight combo guards and small forwards who will be competing for playing time and struggling to establish chemistry together.

    The additions of Dorell Wright, Nic Young, Royal Ivey and Moe Harkless crowd a roster that already had Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday, Jodie Meeks and Evan Turner.

    The headache of making all these pieces fit and getting players to fill roles sends up red flags from a coaching perspective.

Houston Rockets: The Center Position

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    An excellent 2012 NBA Draft and the addition of Jeremy Lin brings some excitement to Houston, but excitement doesn't translate to wins—especially when the Rockets' top center is Omer Asik.

    Asik was a commendable backup for Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer in Chicago, but Houston is exercising an extraordinary amount of faith to make him their man in the middle.

    Patrick Patterson, Sean Williams and Greg Smith will share time off the bench, but that group shouldn't intimidate anyone.

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